NGSS assessments

Steps to Greatness: Making Formative Assessments for NGSS

By Joel Thomas and Kailey Rhodes, Rubicon International

As the NGSS is changing the way we think about science teaching and learning, it only makes sense that it should shift the way we think about assessing. How do we have meaningful, ongoing assessments in a classroom based on phenomena? In an age of standardized tests, how will students demonstrate a thought process? Furthermore, how do we keep assessments from being just “one more thing to do” and instead get meaningful information about how students think? Phillip Bell and Shelley Stromholt tackled these and several more issues at their session How to Assess Three-Dimensional Learning in Your Classroom: Building Assessment Tasks that Work.

Teachers are constantly being told to align their assessment to high-stakes accountability tests, and for good reason, but a great assessment aligning to the NGSS is going to look different than assessments of the past. Since the NGSS ask us to facilitate instruction akin to real science, how do we assess real science on a timed assessment?

NGSS-aligned assessments will be:

More Less NGSS Assessments

As our students’ interactions with science assessments become more involved, our design of these assessments must be more intentional.

1. Begin by brainstorming applicable phenomena related to a cluster of standards.

These will become the phenomena around which you design your assessment situations. If you have multiple phenomena related to the movement of particles, then you can have multiple formative assessments that really shows student understanding, while giving you phenomena to explore in your lessons! In the Performance Expectation below, you may introduce students to several related phenomena: many of these can become situations around which you introduce and teach your material; others can remain to serve as “new” phenomena for students to practice applying their thought process to.

NGSS performance expectation MSLS4

Got phenomena? This site can give multiple examples once you have selected your 3Ds for the unit. And this site has been building a huge set of phenomena to study! Want to craft your own phenomena? Check out this guide!

2. Provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate knowledge.

Aside from the STEM teaching tools, the structure for the foggy mirror example could be used at any grade level, and gives an excellent template for meeting the 5Ds (especially equity). The assessment begins with an image, asks students to think of two explanations for the phenomenon, select one and craft a science question, asks for a visual model incorporating different concepts, and goes on to actually have students explain the phenomena! Even if a student hasn’t found their words around the phenomena, you may discover their visual model demonstrates a surprising conceptual understanding. Ideally, you could take this assessment structure and use it as a template to plug in your phenomena from the previous step.

3. Keep the “facets” in mind.

Remember: the goal is to learn about students from your formative assessment and adjust your instruction accordingly. A great litmus test for determining if an assessment is high-quality is to actually take the test yourself and write out anticipated student responses. Do the questions really allow students to reveal their thinking, or do they prompt a “canned” response? What’s the least revealing answer a student could give and still be considered “correct?” Bell and Stromholt use the word “facet” when describing a student’s underlying framework of understanding. To do a “Facet Analysis” is to thoroughly examine student work looking for facets of student understanding. The goal is to go beyond the surface of “correct” and “incorrect” and to focus on the themes and concepts students are latching onto, and which are still opaque. By looking at student responses on the fogged mirror example above, we were able to see how students understood concepts like particles in motion, energy, condensation, and transference. Then you will be able to analyze how your students have grasped multiple concepts and adjust instruction.

4. Bring in the experts!

Your colleagues are a great resource; do an assessment trade or a facet analysis – they may be able to see underlying thinking in your students’ responses that you hadn’t considered. Have each science teacher on your team bring an assessment and pass it around the group. Get feedback on strengths and areas for growth; they may even know of other phenomena to explore! Practice evaluating assessment questions by evaluating the tasks found here. In our session, Tasks 1, 5, and 6 from the linked document got the best ratings for meeting the Performance Expectation and giving the most opportunity for students to showcase their true understanding. More grade level examples are available here. Periodically meet with your science team to do a thorough facet analysis.

Have any examples of ways you’ve assessed the NGSS? Interested in more NGSS resources? Email us as pd@rubicon.com!

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